Euro 2004: Dutch Report

Wednesday 9 June 2004

As usual, this isn't going to be the most relaxing of breaks for Fulham's International Brigade. With no apparent easing off in the never-ending round of fixtures, for many of the players the summer is going to seem very short indeed.

And of course for the Europeans, there's the little matter of Euro 2004 coming up in a week's time. For goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, this is a tournament of supreme importance, coming as it does after the heartache of his country's failure to make it through to the last World Cup Finals.

Although careful about overselling their claims, the big Dutchman appeared quietly confident of Holland's chances in Portugal, and he's hopeful that the internal strife that has dogged the Dutch team in recent years is now a thing of the past.

"Every country has expectations and Holland is no different," he said, in an exclusive interview with "I don't think of us as a big favourite at the moment. France, Portugal and Italy are strong nations with a lot of experience, but we still have a chance as an outside bet.

"We have had problems once or twice but there's nothing like that at the moment - the press always pass comment on that aspect of past Dutch sides. For a small country, we're almost always there or thereabouts in the big tournaments, so that's quite an achievement, and I don't think people really notice that.

"Holland doesn't have a top division as strong as the Premier League, Serie A or La Liga, but we still produce good players which I think is a big compliment.

"We're playing Germany in the first match, so it's going to be important that we win that and get a head start right away. After that, a draw with the Czech Republic would be a good result."

Still the number one for his country between the sticks, van der Sar is keeping his options open about continuing to play on the world stage.

"There always going to be stiff competition for places at international level," he said. "Ronald Waterreus is there, and others are challenging to be the third choice goalie. But I've been playing for almost ten years and I'm still enjoying it.

"If everything goes well after the European Championships maybe I'll keep on playing - I don't know yet. The obvious thing is to target the World Cup, but I'll have to see which players are going to retire and which ones will go on, and then we'll see."

Described by assistant manager Steve Kean as his own biggest critic, van der Sar has come away from a very successful season not entirely happy with the way things went. By his own admission things didn't go brilliantly for him towards the end, and it's those few matches that are sticking in his memory.

"I did ok until the last four or five games of the season," he said. "And those weren't some of my best performances. You always look at your most recent games, and for that reason I'm not really satisfied with the season.

"Of course you will always think about the mistakes you've made. But you have to turn those mistakes into something positive and make sure that you never let them happen again."

His assessment of the season overall seems to be - "Good, could do better," - but with a real confidence there that the team can push on next term.

"We were doing well up to December and we held on to fourth place for a while," he said. "But for six or seven games after selling Louis Saha we were looking a little bit unsettled and we didn't pick up that many points.

"But we got back into our stride after that spell and picked up some good points.

"We had sold Steve Finnan before the start of the season but everyone else stayed. You could see right away that Moritz was a good right back so in terms of the squad, we didn't lose much quality. Louis Saha started to score more that he did before, so I wasn't negative about the Club's prospects for the season.

"There were a number of reasons why we did better. Everybody knew more about the teams we were playing against; we also scored more goals than in the past two seasons; and importantly we also improved our attitude away from home. There's certainly a lot of fighting spirit in this team now.

"I think we tried to play the same way without Louis for a few matches which didn't work out that well. We had to adjust a few things, but we knew what we had to do to change the system, and when we did that we became a more effective team.

"Steed and Boa were big performers for us. A lot of people didn't know what to expect from Collins John but he made a very good start. I thought Zat had a good season and he was unlucky to be suspended for the final three matches.

"There's no doubt that we have the potential here for a very good squad and that we could do well next season."